A response to a question about imagery... Use of racial content....

I had some questions regarding this imagery (from an artist friend), so I thought I'd share some of my explanation here for clarification.  

The image was taken from a book on the history of the American Civil War, which ran from 1861-1865.  The two young men in the picture are (l - r) Andrew M. Chandler and "his faithful servant

", Silas (quotes present in the book); who were from Clay County, Mississippi (the deep south).  I was struck by how young the two looked, perhaps 15 or 16? And I found the contrasts between the two figures to be extremely compelling...

While Andrew's posture reflects what I see as a boy who is perhaps naive and impenetrable, Silas appears to look askance, with his gaze averted and his posture settled.  Is Silas slouching, because he would not be "allowed" to sit at a height equal to Andrew's height?  Or is he not fully committed to the "cause"?

What keeps drawing me to this image are the contrasts, both subtle and not so subtle, between the figures.

What either figure thinks can only be imagined...and that hooks me as well.

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Comment by WA Rodgers on May 28, 2013 at 5:37pm

That situation should never have happened.... It's disheartening, but then I look at my kids and at the kids I've seen in in more remote areas (near where I grew up), and they have much more egalitarian views on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation from what I can tell.  Surprisingly the gender roles still seem fairly entrenched, though.

I did recently read/hear some statistics indicating that the level of violence (even with the wars going on right now) have continued to decrease significantly (I think it was for each century of the last 800 years), which gives me hope...

Comment by Alicia Starr on May 28, 2013 at 4:56pm

In case i was in mutt mode: I believe it is our, (some of us anyway)  responsibility to use these images to remember. Yes, it is still happening. And as recently as a few years ago. A dear friend of mine was the co-creator of the Martin Luther King monument installed in Columbia Missouri. She went down for the dedication. They stopped in a small town and found a diner for lunch. She has brown skin, she is a woman of color, she was refused service. This happened around 2003.

Comment by WA Rodgers on May 27, 2013 at 6:44pm

If I go down a harrowing path, I lay down and rest in it....You know, ruminate a bit and look up at the sky.  Maybe I even wonder, how the fuck did I get here?  I get up and keep going until I am somewhere else - I've never been singularly bent on one particular direction.  Sometimes I crack up at my own foibles, or see some amusing tidbit that awakens joy....Most of the time I just wander and wonder. 

Comment by WA Rodgers on May 27, 2013 at 6:24pm

True, but aren't we even to this day seeing forced consignment?  Here was a young man, and I'm speaking of Silas, forced into a situation where he was (most probably) fighting against his own interests and the interests of his family....He was still enslaved, no?  I wonder what went through his mind each day as he stood next to other soldiers fighting to keep him enslaved.  How was his aim?  (Did he know the way the wind was blowing, and could he use it to his advantage?}

Child soldiers, sex workers, and factory laborers are still enslaved the world over.... I can't look away, but I also feel somewhat helpless to affect change in a direct and meaningful way.  I do what I can. I am careful about my consumption practices; I spend my money where I think it will help (wisely, I hope).... I am not proselytizing- that's not me, but I continue to find things (images, ideas, flotsam) where I notice a connection.

I recently found another, more horrific image - from the late 40s or early 50's of two young black men hanging from a branch above the heads of a crowd.  The scene below the men was a jumble of revelry and apprehension and ambiguous expressions.  Have we as a society changed all that much?  Aren't we as a culture (American Culture with an uppercase "c") still engaged in revelry, apprehension, and ambiguity in the face of the horrific treatment of others?

I want change, but I have to do it my own way, as direct and indirect as I can.  I'm an artist, not a writer, and sometimes words fail me.... I guess my art-making will also fail at times, so I'll think some more about what you have to say, Alicia.

Comment by Alicia Starr on May 27, 2013 at 1:02am

What about - not using this imagery. Remembering Wen, it just may be our responsibility.  

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